Stonekeep's mythology revolves around a variety of gods associated with planets of the solar system. In order, they are Helion (Mercury), Aquila (Venus), Thera (Earth), Azrael (Mars), Marif (Jupiter), Afri (Saturn), Saffrini (Uranus), Yoth-Soggoth (Neptune) the Master of Magick, and Kor-Soggoth (Pluto) the Brother to Magick.
Stonekeep is centered on a hero, Drake. During the Devastation of the world by the insane god Khull-Khuum, the Shadowking, Drake the boy was saved from his castle by a mysterious figure. Years later, Drake returned to the ruins of Stonekeep and the goddess Thera sends his spirit out of his body into the ruins itself to explore, reclaim the land, and defeat Khull-Khuum.
Along the way, Drake makes many friends, including Farli, Karzak, and Dombur the dwarves; the great dragon Vermatrix; the elf Enigma; and the mysterious Wahooka, the King of goblins. He also rids the world of Khull-Khuum's evil minions and allies such as the sorceress Ice Queen.
Stonekeep is a first-person RPG in the style of Eye of the Beholder and Dungeon Master. The game is set in a series of underground labyrinths, filled with monsters, treasures and traps.
Stonekeep features an elaborate 'Magick' system where four types of runes are inscribed onto a spellcaster: Mannish, Fae, Throggish, and Meta.
The project started out with just two people, Peter Oliphant and Michael Quarles. It was intended to last only nine months and only supposed to cost $50K. However, because the initial stages of the game looked good it exceeded nine months, lasting a total of five years. Eventually there was a production crew of over 200 people, and costing a total of $5 million.
The initial story line was written by Oliphant, who also designed and programmed the graphics and artificial intelligence engine for the game. The project started out being called Brian's Dungeon (named after Brian Fargo, the president of Interplay Entertainment at the time). Fargo came up with the final name, Stonekeep. The production took much longer than expected because of the rapid advancement of personal computer hardware at the time; specifically, PC CPUs advancing from 80386, to 80486, to Pentiums in the years the game was being developed.
Oliphant, who originally designed the game and was lead programmer, left the game as the project passed its fourth year in development. He felt his continued presence was resulting in the constant addition of feature creep and changes (he was a contractor, and had initially only signed up for a nine-month project). After he left, the design became finalized and the product was shipped one year later. Michael Quarles, who was an Interplay employee, stayed as the game's producer and saw it through to the end.
The initial specification for the game included that it could not require a hard drive or a mouse, run on a 80286 CPU, use 640K, and run off floppy disks. At the project's end, the game had been upgraded to requiring a mouse, a hard drive, a 386 CPU, and ran off CD-ROM. As a result, the engine had to be extensively modified throughout the production.
The initial motions of the monsters in the game were captured by using a blue screen outside with the sunlight. This resulted in uneven lighting from take to take, so eventually all that work was scrapped. Later a professional studio with controlled lighting was used.
According to Peter Oliphant, when the project was taken over by Michael Quarles, two questionable decisions were made. The game was always designed to be grid-based, where the player moved from grid to grid (in contrast to today's full freedom of motion 3D environments). Peter Oliphant wanted the movement from center of grid to center of grid, but Michael Quarles changed this to edge of grid to edge of grid. This resulted in the problem that turning within a grid moved the player to the other side of the grid. Much of the long production was a result of correcting this lack of symmetry. The other questionable decision was to not include Peter Oliphant in the production of the motion graphics (Oliphant had extensive Hollywood background before becoming a game developer). One consequence was that the original combat graphics had been captured from the waist up only, as Michael Quarles had reasoned one must be close to a monster to fight it. Peter Oliphant, upon being delivered these graphics and seeing them for the first time, pointed out that the player could back away during a fight, which would result in seeing their legs. The legs therefore had to be drawn in by hand frame-by-frame to fix this, until these graphics were scrapped for a professional green screen treatment used later on.
The movie at the beginning is the most expensive part of the production, costing nearly half a million dollars to produce. It is interesting to note this amount is 10 times more than the initial budget for the entire project.
About three years into the project, Peter Oliphant suggested to Brian Fargo that the product be delivered on CD-ROM. Fargo rejected this idea at the time, citing the failure of previous Interplay CD-ROM projects that had gone this route. Oliphant suggested this after Fargo requested him to drop his percentage of royalties by half due to the high cost of production and goods to create the product, as it was at that time to be shipped on 8 floppy disks. The cost of one CD was about the cost of one floppy disk, and the possibilities for eight floppy disks having problems is much greater than a single CD, so the solution seemed obvious to Oliphant. And, in fact, six months later Fargo changed his mind and made the same decision.
The original skeleton in the game was an actual skeleton being worn by one of the artists, and was filmed against a green screen. Because of this there were no images/animations of the skeleton walking away from the player during game play. A few months before the game's release the skeleton was replaced with the 3D model which was used on the packaging.
After the game's release, Stonekeep was awarded the Reader's Choice Role Playing Game Of the Year 1996 (Computer Gaming World). The Adrenaline Vault praised the game, stating "[t]his game was by far, [in my humble opinion], the best game of 1995 in it's genre and is still an awesome game to play. You're guaranteed to spend hours upon hours on this game and never tire of it's thrill! [sic]" GameSpot did not offer similar praises, concluding that "Stonekeep is a dated first-person RPG that suffers from a poor interface, little depth, and few frills."
Stonekeep was packaged in an elaborate gravestone-style illustrated box and came with a white hardback novella, Thera Awakening, coauthored by Steve Jackson and David Pulver. It was also translated into German. According to personal communication (via e-mail), David Pulver did the main work of the novel, for which both authors were hired. All rights of the novel went to Interplay.
The CD-ROM also included a file called "muffins.txt" which contained a recipe for Tim Cain's Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Muffins.
A novel called The Oath of Stonekeep, which takes place in the world of Stonekeep, was written by Troy Denning and published 1999 by Berkley Boulevard Books. Interplay's own Black Isle Studios worked on a sequel called Stonekeep 2: Godmaker for five years before cancelling it in 2001.